What’s up designers, and welcome back to Rempton Games. In today’s episode of Evolution of Pokemon design we have finally made it to the most recent generation – Generation 8, better known as Pokemon Sword and Shield. As always, we will be looking at the common design trends and motifs of the Pokemon in this generation, how the themes and mechanics of this generation influence these designs, and how Gen 8 has cha
nged from previous entries in the series. Without further ado, let’s get started.
Pokemon Sword and Shield take place in the Galar region, which is based off of the island of Great Britain. Much like the past few generations, Gen 8 leans heavily into its geographic inspirations, and many Pokemon designs and concepts are strongly influenced by british culture and history. These include Corviknight, styled after a medieval knight; Yamper, based on the Queen of England’s favorite dog, the Corgi; and Sinistea and Polteageist for the British love of tea. Mr Rime’s appearance is based off of classic English actor Charlie Chaplin, and of course Appletun was inspired by the well-known phrase “As British as apple pie”.
This setting also influenced the story of the game in a few major ways. Britain is famously in love with the sport of Soccer, or Football for those outside of the U.S., and this obsession with organized sports is reflected in the structure of the Galar league. In Galar, Pokemon battling is a spectator sport that takes place in massive stadiums full of fans, and Gym leaders are treated similarly to pro-athletes.
The backstory of the Galar region is also influenced by British history and legends, particularly the stories of King Arthur. The stories of the two kings who used the legendary sword and shield to fight against the darkest day is very similar to how Arthur used the legendary sword Excalibur to unite the kingdoms of Britain and bring peace to the land. Throughout the course of playing these games the player gets to retrace the steps of these legendary heroes and prevent another Darkest Day from happening, with the help of the region’s resident legendary Pokemon, Zacian and Zamazenta.
Even the starter Pokemon of this region tie into this theme, all being based on British entertainers or pop-culture icons. Intelleon is based on the fictional british spy James Bond, Cinderace is based on a professional football player, and Rillaboom is based on a rock-and-roll drummer. In fact, rock music is somewhat of a subtheme in this generation, with Toxtricity and Obstagoon also being based on rock musicians.
The major mechanical change introduced in this generation is the addition of Dynamax and Gigantimax Pokemon. These two forms are very similar to one another – they are both transformations that a Pokemon undergoes that makes them appear to grow to gigantic sizes. For most Pokemon, dynamax simply makes them bigger, but certain Pokemon can take on a special form when dynamaxing, called a Gigantimax form.
The concept of dynamax Pokemon plays into what I mentioned earlier, about Pokemon battling being a spectator sport in the Galar region. Transforming your Pokemon into gigantic forms is a major spectacle, and throughout the game you are only allowed to dynamax in special locations, called Power Spots. Most of these Power Spots are inside the gyms of the region, which were specifically build for dynamax battles.
The dynamax forms themselves are a varied bunch – some Pokemon seem to barely change, while others transform so completely that they barely resemble themselves. Despite this variety, I think there are some interesting patterns to pick up. One interesting pattern I picked up was the difference between older Pokemon that were given Gigantimax forms, and Gigantimax forms for Generation 8 Pokemon. For older Pokemon, Gigantimax forms tended not to change much, and mainly changed in 2 different ways. First, many of them gained glowy bits that emphasized their elemental natures, such as Charizard’s flaming wings, Pikachu’s electrical tail, and Machamp’s glowing fists.
Second, and even more pervasive, was altering the Pokemon’s design to emphasize a sense of scale. Meowth’s design is stretched out to emphasize it’s height, Lapras’s design shifts to evoke an entire cruise ship, Garbodor’s garbage now includes entire buildings and vehicles, and Snorlax has an entire landscape growing on top of him. However, despite these adjustments the Gigantimax form stays pretty faithful to the Pokemon’s original designs.
Not so with the Gen 8 Gigantimax forms. These forms tend to make much more significant changes to the designs, to the point that many of them look more like actual evolutions than new forms. This can be seen most clearly with Pokemon like Melmetal, Sandaconda, Alcremie, Drednaw and Centaskorch. The reason these forms take more liberty with the original designs is that they were probably developed at the same time, and they may have each influenced the other design. While this can result in some very impressive looking Gigantimax forms, it also has a downside.
Some Pokemon have very impressive Gigantimax forms that end up leaving their standard forms feeling a bit plain and unfinished. It’s possible that the designers wanted to save the impressive designs for the Gmax form, or maybe they intentionally made the base forms plainer for more of a contrast. It’s also possible that none of that happened, and the more “unfinished feeling” designs are just a common trend of this generation.
Since we’ve talked about Gmax designs, let’s look more generally at the new Pokemon of this generation. In may ways the designs of this generation harken back to Generation 1 – Many of them have relatively simple color schemes, and there is a huge variety in the types of Pokemon – including animalistic and humanoid designs, object-based Pokemon, Pokemon with multiple bodies, and even more generic “monstrous” looking Pokemon. However, it also has hallmarks of more recent gens – particularly in the variety of (generally larger and rounder) eyes, and the overall simplicity of the designs. While there are some relatively complex designs in the bunch, such as Dracozolt and Obstagoon, there are relatively few in this generation.
However, I think there are two main traits that define the designs of this generation. The first is faithfulness to the source material, and the second is complexity of concept.
Regarding the first point, there are many Pokemon in this generation that have designs that are extremely close to the animal or object that inspired them. Pokemon like Stonjourner, Sinistea, Centiskorch, arrokuda, Dubwool, and Greedent are all very similar to their source material. While I rarely agree with comments saying that a particular Pokemon is “Just X” or “X with a face”, I think that it applies to this generation more than any except the very first.
Add the fact that many of these Pokemon are for creatures that we’ve already seen before and you run end up with the problem that, in my opinion, many of these Pokemon are plainer versions of Pokemon we’ve already seen. Just look at Emolga and Pachirisu vs Skwovet and Greedent. They are all squirrels, but Pachirisu and Emolga are much more stylized and recognizable as Pokemon, whereas I could easily see Skwovet and Greedent as characters in a Cartoon Network show about cartoon animals. You can similarly compare Wooloo and Dubwool with the Mareep family, or Thievul to Zoroark – even Morpeko wouldn’t look at all out of place in an episode of Hamtaro.
Looking like a real-world animal or object isn’t a bad thing on it’s own, I just think that many of these Pokemon feel like they are missing a bit of an extra twist to make the designs feel more distinct.
Ironically, the other defining trait of this generation is their complexity – not of design, but of concept. Take the fossils of this generation, for example. Rather than simply being revived ancient Pokemon, they are incorrectly combined pieces of ancient Pokemon, that harken back to real-life archeological mix-ups. Similarly, Dragapult is an ancient ghostly salamander, mixed with a modern stealth bomber, that launches its young at its enemies, and Hatterene is a tiny telepathic alien pilotic a suit made of hair. The stories and inspirations behind all of these Pokemon may not be obvious at first glance, but many of them include details that help tell more of the story – such as the oxidizing copper and history of colonialism implied by Copperajah’s design, for example.
If you want to design a generation 8 Pokemon, you either need to try to fit four ideas into one design, or slap a face on Stonehenge and call it a day.
In addition to brand new Pokemon and Gigantimax, Sword and Shield continues the trend started last generation by introducing new regional forms, called Galarian forms. These forms are similar to the Alolan forms I talked about last time, so I’m going to focus on how they differ. The first difference is that these forms are no longer exclusive to Pokemon from Gen 1 – while most of the regional forms are still for Gen 1 pokemon, we also got regional forms for Pokemon from generations 2, 3, and 5 – but none for Gen 4, which may be related to the Remakes coming out later this year.
Another difference is in their evolutions – for the first time, regional forms can have different evolutions than their original forms. Galarian Meowth evolves into Purserker instead of Persian, and Galarian Corsola evolves into Cursola even though Corsola originally didn’t evolve at all!
The final difference is in the designs themselves. There are two common trends I noticed among Galarian forms. The first is a tendency towards “darker and edgier” versions of the original designs – this can be seen with Meowth, Corsola, Zigzagoon, Stunfisk, the legendary birds. Another related trend is the relative lack of color – many of the Galarian forms have a black, white and grey color palette with small pops of color. This includes Weezing, Mr. Mime, Darmanitan, and Yamask.
Finally, let’s talk about the legendary Pokemon of this generation. To be honest, I found most of the legendary Pokemon of this generation to be pretty lackluster – with one big exception. To me, most of them just don’t really feel legendary, for one reason or another.
Let’s start with Zacian and Zamazenta – the faces of Sword and Shield. Nothing about these Pokemon really feels legendary to me. Their designs, while highly complex like most legendaries (especially in their equipped forms), just don’t inspire awe the same way something like Kyogre, Zekrom, or Solgaleo does. Their backstory also doesn’t feel that legendary. Their main claim to fame is that they have fought in many battles – compare that to Regigigas pulling continents into place, or Xerneas being an embodiment of life energy, and it pales in comparison.
I could say similar things about Kubfoo and Urshifoo, Glastrier and Spectrier, and Zarude. I have a hard time seeing why any of these Pokemon are legendary, and I think that if you plopped them into any of the recent generations as a normal, non-legendary Pokemon nobody would blink an eye.
The one major exception to this trend is Eternatus. Eternatus is absolutely buckwild, and while it took me some time to warm up to it I absolutely love it now. When I first saw it in-game I’m pretty sure I audibly said “what the heck is that”, because its complex, skeletal, otherworldly design seemed so out-of-place with the other Pokemon of this generation. However, it immediately looked powerful and intimidating, and the boss-fight against Eternamax Eternatus is easily the most memorable moment in the entire game. While I was a little disappointed that they didn’t introduce any new Ultra Beasts this generation, Eternatus is very much in line with what I would expect a legendary Ultra Beast to look like.
That’s all I have for this week. I would love to know your thoughts about the designs of this generation in the comments down below. Let me know if you agree or disagree with the comments that I made, and if there are any major topics or trends that I missed. If you liked this video give it a like, and if you haven’t already checked out the previous entries in this series you should definitely give those a watch. And join me next time for another Triviarena video. Until then, thank you so much for watching, and I’ll see you next time.